The "Burned Over" District

Shivani Tambi


The "burned over district" was used to describe the religious scene in western, upstate New York. It started as a result of the Second Great Awakening, a protestant revival movement, that was occurring in America in this time period, which was the early 19th century. Mainly, a lot of protestant converts resulted of revival. It also included several other religious revivals from the years 1820 to 1850 and the "burned over district" was a part of this awakening as the region was filled with religious fervor. Charles Grandison Finney was a major leader of the Second Great Awakening, he coined the term the "burned over district," as the region was so heavily evangelized.

Important Leaders

Important leaders of the revival movements that occurred in the "burned out district" included:

Charles Grandison Finney: Finney was considered to be the most famous revivalist of the Second Great Awakening. He created a lot of controversy, especially in the Presbyterian Church. He supported women's rights and believed that they should be able to speak in prayer groups and sought to expand their roles all together. This was mostly unheard of in this time period and a lot of ministers condemned this practice. He thought both men and women had a moral duty to participate in social reform. He performed many spirited revivals in the villages of upstate New York, which explains why he played such a big role in the "burned over district."

William Miller: Leader of a religious movement called Millerism, the goal of which was to bring back the belief that the advent of Christ was imminent. He predicted that the world would end in "about 1843" and after he died some of his followers predicted the Second Coming of Christ on October 22, 1844. His beliefs characterized him as part of an Adventist body. There are two of these large bodies today, the Advent Christian Church and the Seventh-Day Adventists.

The Fox sisters: Three sisters from Hydesville in Wayne County claimed that they could communicate with the dead in 1848. They gave public exhibitions showing this ability. These beginnings lead the development of Spiritualism. One of the sisters claimed that their "rappings" of talking to the dead were false once, and they were discredited ever since. Spiritualism is still active, though.

Joseph Smith: Founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. As a young boy he wasn't sure which of the many religions to join in the world of religious excitement around him. He posed this question to God one day and he claimed that he was joined by God and was told not to join any. He was considered a prophet of god and wrote The Book of Mormon from "the word of god," it was published in March 1840.

Major Beliefs and Practices

Common practices between the religions that formed in this region included polygamy and social reforms. Polygamy was practiced by Mormons and by Joseph Smith, the founder of this special sect of Christianity. The Oneida Society, a large Utopian group in central New York also practiced group marriage and believed in a community raising a child. These practices were looked down upon by anyone who wasn't a part of these religious groups. Social ideas were also mutual between the religions in this region. Women's rights was supported by Charles Grandison Finney and was exemplified by the Seneca Falls Convention, which was dedicated to women's suffrage. Abolitionism was also a major social reform that was common in the beliefs of the groups in the "burned over district." Finney was also a part of this movement as he founded the Oberlin College, which was the first college that allowed black people and women to study there.

Utopian social experiments were also common throughout this region of New York. These included the Oneida one mentioned above, and the Shakers. The Shakers had a communal living system, with the sexes being equal and separated completely. Their first communal farm was in central New York and they were very active in this area. These religious Utopian experiments were many in the "burned over district."

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The Burned Over District - Religions of Central NY by Dr. Mike McKenzie